Monday, November 24, 2008

Techno From Unexpected Faces: Eric Clapton

My college radio days coincided with the American Electronica Revolution (aka 1997) which gave me access to new music in a way that today can only be parallelled by anyone who knows how to log on to the internet (congratulations). Having a front seat to a musical movement allowed me to hear some albums that slipped by the larger public such as T.D.F.'s Retail Therapy. In an effort to guide dj's to better tracks and ferret out language that is less than FCC friendly all the station's music had short reviews and I recall that one staff member wrote something along the lines of "this is really good chill out music but it has these really annoying Poison guitar solos all over it". In a day and age when Daft Punk hid behind dog masks T.D.F. were ahead of the curve wearing helmets in all of their publicity photos even going further in creating a mystique by listing the group's members Simon Climie and someone named x-sample in the liner notes. As one of the first major label "electronica" acts out of the gate what they weren't saying was that Climie was an established industry sideman and that x-sample was a bizarre alias for Eric Clapton. The album has gone out of print but I can assure you that the album was decidedly more smooth jazz than anything else with only a few tracks that were even remotely on par with electronica of the time. The album's highlight is "Rip Stop" an admirable attempt at drum 'n' bass that came only a year after the sub-genre's first credible artist album was released:

: The album garnered some rough reviews including All Music Guide's that calls Retail Therapy "a bland, colorless dead alley into electronic music from two musicians who don't comprehend its essence" which may explain why there has never been a followup. However it's worth noting that in the late 80s Simon Climie's duo Climie Fisher had a not bad non-hit "Love Changes (Everything)" underscore an important montage of Savage Steve Holland's How I Got Into College and that movie has a young Lara Flynn Boyle attempting to play a character with warmth. That's almost as strange as a 60s guitar icon attempting drum 'n' bass.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Late Review: Duran Duran Red Carpet Massacre

Today marks one year since Duran Duran launched their latest comeback album and to celebrate I bring you a late review that has been sitting in draft since February. Maybe I should have finished it:

Duran Duran's Red Carpet Massacre recently caught my attention again prompting me to finally gave it a proper listen. Their patchy self-titled wedding album was one of the first discs I bought back when I really started getting into music leaving me with doubt over their ability to fully bring the goods and it's reputation as one of their stronger efforts has put me off buying Duran Duran albums for ages. Sure there have been some strong moments over the years with "Electric Barbarella" and "Nice" coming to mind as relatively recent favorites, but I never seem to find much I want to revisit outside of the singles. When Red Carpet Massacre came out it simply slipped past me despite it being covered by many of my favorite blogs, talked up by some online friends and hearing some of it on the Bay Area's kinda top 40 radio station.

Without a doubt the defining buzz around the album was super producer Timbaland's involvement suggesting this is Duran Duran's hip hop album. The group have shown an interest in the genre before covering "White Lines" and bringing Missy Elliot on board for a track on their last album but Timbaland co-produces three tracks and his apprentice Danja, who the Wall Street Journal note "typically charges $50,000 to $100,000 per track", has his hands over the all but one of the remaining tracks demonstrating the group's willingness to jump into the deep end of a foreign genre. Well almost. After listening to the album I can now safely say that they didn't jettison all their new wave roots but rather polished them with a different production style. Opener "The Valley" is a great example coming on as strong as any of their recent material but far enough away from their usual mode of operation that my first listen had me checking my car stereo's EQ to see what happened to the missing mid-range. The title track pushes the band further into unexplored territory as the album's biggest lyrical statement, some sort of take down of vapid celebrity culture which must disgust the yachting members of Duran Duran, finds the common ground between punk and the sounds of top 40 hip hop. Timbaland makes his first appearance on "Nite-Runner", the album's biggest hip hop moment and the most obvious choice for a single, lending his signature beats to a song that sounds so little like anything Duran Duran have touched before that that Simon Le Bon's vocals are easily mistaken for those of the track's co-producer Justin Timberlake. The remaining Timbaland tracks allow more of the band to shine through but both don't hit the mark of radio friendly pop with the same force.
Elsewhere in the album the band primarily focus on their strength at crafting mid-tempo ballads. The first single "Falling Down" finds Timberlake alone in the producer's chair steering the band towards "Ordinary World" territory with enough to success to that it got the band back on US radio. Well at least for a few weeks. They strip down the production to simple strummed guitar on "Box Full O Honey" which is an earnest attempt to portray heartbreak that is a highlight despite sounding a bit overworked. "She's Too Much" also hits some sweets spots as LeBon demonstrates why he has such a way with the ladies as he bares his sensitive soul.
Those looking for some old school new wave jams won't be disappointed. "Zoom In" has it going on musically but lines like "I'm zooming in and out on you" seem like an odd pickup line for the new millennium. A bit of research reveals the song was premiered in the game Second Life which give the lyrics a quite literal twist but it's still odd to hear the band wooing a sexy lady by praising her "avatar". You really have to be at a certain stage in your career to have that the confidence to so boldly go where your lyrical muse takes you.
Over all the band really have it together on this out as even the instrumental "Tricked Out", which has a touch of a rocked out Halloween magic, seem essential to the album. It may have taken some time, but Duran Duran have finally found the right mix of new ideas and consistent songwriting to draw me into an album that I want to revisit. Hopefully their label will wake up realizing that they gave up way too early on this strong album and finally release a second single soon.

Monday, November 03, 2008


It is thrilling to hear that the Pet Shop Boys are receiving the Outstanding Contribution to Music Award at the upcoming Brit Awards because it gives me hope that actual pop artists can be honored by institutions. While I hope that something like Popjustice's vision of the event takes place I already dread the way the award ceremony will be butchered on American tv never giving me a chance to see it outside of youtube. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way US television programmers treat Brit musical events. Maybe I'm just paranoid but New Order's lifetime achievement award was cut out of an awards show when it showed on VH1 a few years back and BBC America chopped PSB out of the An Audience with Elton John bar one shot of them in the crowd confirming that they were there. Why show Brit tv when you are just going to not show what makes it different from American music shows? Really BBC America, isn't the whole premise of your network that you cater to Anglophiles? Regardless here is the last time the Boys played the Brit Awards (notice that whoever dresses West End Girls might have seen this):